In Good Company

“Poets and painters are outside the class system or rather they constitute a special class of their own, like circus people and Gypsies.” Gerald Brenan, British writer

OK, I’m not sure exactly what Mr. Brenan meant by the comparison as I’m not sure how he felt about circus people and Gypsies, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt because I love the quote.

To me, both groups of people exhibit fearlessness, a sense of adventure, wide-open embracing of life. If that describes a poet I’ll take it. Writing poetry takes a bit of fearlessness to dig for emotions and images, and that ability to see and embrace all of life – the pretty and the ugly. The adventure comes when the poems start to breathe and are shared with others. It’s a great ride and I’m about to embark on a new one.

image007With the release of my first collection of poetry, In the Garden of Life and Death ~ A Mother and Daughter Walk, it’s time to hop in my wagon and begin the publicity tour. My Hyundai isn’t quite as ornate or colorful as the caravans of circus people and Gypsies, but it does have new tires and I’m excited to travel and meet people, talk about writing and my book, and share stories.

All the events below are open to the public so please stop by and visit. I hope to add more and will update as that happens.

Stops so far ~

Thursday February 12   5-7       Lancaster Book Launch       Lancaster County Council of the Arts, Springs House Gallery

Saturday February 21   1-3        Reading and signing             Gallery 102

Tuesday February 24   6           Reading and signing              Lancaster County Library

Friday February 27      7:30      Featured Reader                     Final Friday Series – Madison’s Coffee House  , Indian Trail, NC

Sunday March 15          4-5:30   Charlotte Book Launch        Wingmakers Arts Collaborative

Tuesday March 17         6            Reading and signing             Lancaster  Library Book Club

Wednesday March 18   7            Featured Reader                   So-So Books – Raleigh, NC

Saturday May 16                          Reading and signing             Galion Historical Society – Galion, OH, Brownella Cottage

Tuesday June 9                            Reading                                  Poetry Hickory, Hickory, NC

If you read a previous post about my letting my natural curls go naturally grey, you know I have what some consider Gypsy Hair. Maybe Mr. Brenan knew something after all 🙂

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A Soft Opening

Last month Hubby and I went to one of our favorite Sunday brunch places, The Yolk. It’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of place that recently had to change walls due to a fire. We drove past their new location and were excited to see cars parked outside and people inside. They’d finally reopened! We went in, the waitress seated us right away and we admired the new look while enjoying our breakfast off their eclectic menu. It wasn’t until we asked for our bill that we were told ~

Oh we’re not officially open yet. This was just our soft opening for our benefactors and to see how everything flowed. Your breakfast is on the house.

We were mortified. We apologized…offered to pay for our breakfast… The owner thought it was funny and refused our cash. We left a nice tip for our waitress and slipped out while the other ‘customers’ were thanked for their generous support after the fire.

Over the last two weeks was another soft opening, one that has been both wonderful and humbling. My poetry collection, In the Garden of Life and Death~A Mother and Daughter Walk was released! DSC01590In mid-December I attended a book launch for moonShine review at the editor’s home. Its publisher happens to be mine as well and before I’d put my purse down he encouraged me to check out the Christmas decorations. Anne did a really nice job. I thought the suggestion a little odd – of course I’d check out the decorations…after I got a plate of food…a glass of wine… But it seemed important I do that first. Like seeing the cars in The Yolk’s parking lot and the people inside, I was just happy to be there and completely missed the fact there may be something else going on.

So I wandered through the rooms, (Anne’s decorations were really pretty), and in the office, where I found a place to finally stash my purse, alongside all the other authors’ books was mine. All I could say was oh my gosh…oh my gosh…I got a little teary. Then I heard the whispers, Has she seen them?! Seeing them for the first time surrounded by Hubby and friends made receiving them all the more sweet.

Copies were sent to my ‘benefactors’ – those who’d pre-ordered my book. I imagined the envelopes falling like snow across South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin. That’s where the final stage of the soft opening began. Amid the excitement of the holidays, family and friends found quiet moments to open the pages, read my family’s story and peek into the tiny windows of childhood cancer and care-giving.

Their responses bring me to real tears. I’m so grateful to my first readers for their support and kind words, and to have these past couple of weeks to pinch myself into believing this is real.

But now it’s time to celebrate! Book launches and readings/signings are in the works. There will be wine, chocolate…and I don’t know what else. I can’t wait to spend time with you answering questions about In the Garden of Life and Death, writing, poetry…The Yolk. Whatever comes up. Will you join me?

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From Tiny Tim to Carole King

I have naturally curly hair and on days like we’ve had lately they spring like crazy. I call them wild and I love them.  But apparently curls can sometimes be the envy of those with straight locks, I wish I had just a little bit of your curl… even my hairdresser has said this to me. Thus the rumor my friend asked about – Is it true women who look like you should wear a bag over their head? Genevieve is from France so hearing it with a French accent made it all the more unsettling for some reason. French and fashion, you know.

I admit there have been times when I was tempted to wear the bag, but it wasn’t because I’d conjured up the green-eyed monster.

Oh Sweetie, you look just like Tiny Tim… Mom’s sorrowful greeting after another day of Ohio humidity and what it did to my shoulder-length naturally curly hair. I know she meant well…Tiny Tim

Grandma wished for just a little of my curl. Mom would spend hours on a Saturday every few months giving Grandma a perm. Those were the days of the tiny pink, sponge rollers and stinky – there’s no other word to describe the smell – perm-setting solution. Grandma would have her hair washed and she’d be wearing a simple cotton slip with a towel around her shoulders. She always wore dresses and was modest. I never got used to seeing her in nothing but a slip.

I can still see Mom portioning Grandma’s hair, wrapping the short tresses around pink sponges, making sure everything was rolled nice and tight. They looked like mini Tootsie Rolls. Then she’d attach the combing applicator to the bottle of setting solution and comb the liquid over each roll. Grandma caught drips with her towel. They would spend hours giggling and gossiping. Both of them telling me how lucky I was to have such nice curls and I’d never have to go through this.

Well, not until high school when everybody else had spaghetti-straight hair and mine looked like Tiny Tim’s. Mom and I tried everything. I bent over the ironing board, my hair stretched out beneath a towel while she ironed it. I slept with my hair wrapped around the stubby cans from concentrated orange juice, my head 2 inches off my pillow. We tried cutting it in the ‘Farrah Fawsett’ but the layers just made me look like an Egyptian sphinx. It wasn’t a good look.

I must not have been the only teen-age girl suffering with curly hair trying to fit in with girls with shiny, swinging, straight beautiful hair. Uncurl-The Curl Relaxer mercifully came on the market. It was Grandma’s perm in reverse. Mom would roll my wet hair onto the huge gold plastic rollers, which were about 4 inches in diameter. I’d be in a tee-shirt with a towel around my shoulders while she applied the relaxer. It didn’t completely take away the curl, but I could wear it down and it actually looked straight. Even on days with humidity. I loved it!

Then in college I decided to be me, embrace the curls whether they were cut short or left long. Eventually I started to color it to tame the wildness as the gray threatened to turn my locks wiry and break. The image of a Brillo pad atop my head was scarier than Tiny Tim.

But this summer I decided to embrace the gray as well. I wrote a piece for a writers’ workshop saying this bit of bravery was a challenge only other curlies would understand. There were four other curlies in the class – two who continued to dye their hair, one still too young to make the decision and one, like me, who has embraced the challenge. All gave me high fives. At the end of the workshop one of the men walked up to me, I like your curly hair. It makes me think of Carole King.

I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s much better than Tiny Tim or wearing a paper bag~especially on a day when the moisture in the air makes the curls dance and go crazy.


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The Creation of a Poetry Collection Part 3: It’s Not About Me

image007Today’s post is the last in this series. I’ve not written much about Mom and her 6 month battle with lung cancer. This is the little bit of Mom I’ll share today. In that short time my sisters, Dad and I experienced many of the same things I did going through treatments with my daughter. There were side effects, frustrations and uncertainties, and between the two of us, Empathy. One poignant difference was her gentle lesson in how to die.

Even though my sisters and I were adults, we were still her Girls and she was Mom. We watched. A woman of strong faith, her rosary and Bible were her meds of choice. Known for her ready smile, that’s what she continued to offer instead of complaints. Always a private person, she accepted with grace the offerings of food and rides for treatment from people outside of the family. She reminded us that even in dying, how we live our lives isn’t about us.

Besides my poet friends, other people helped me realize my poems were not about me. I spent a day at our old clinic absorbing its sights, sounds and smells. It had been almost 20 years since I’d been there and they’d done a complete make-over. I’m talking a flip!I actually walked out and checked to make sure I was in the right place. Yet even after 20 years of advances in treatment and physical changes in the clinic, the essence of that place remained the same. Children were hooked up to IVs for chemo, and as I sat in the welcome area I overheard one mom say to another,

“My daughter has ALL. It’s supposed to be the one with the best chances for survival. But I’m still afraid, you know?”

The final window to open and make my friends and I realize these poems were not about me, and not even fully about cancer, was the one about care-giving.

In my circle of friends there are several Super Women~

* moms with children who have particular challenges. One whose daughter has addictions, two whose sons have OCD, and another whose daughter has Down’s. All the children are adults so the care-giving has changed, but hasn’t completely disappeared.

* four who are taking care of their parents.  Two of them have moms who have moved in with them because of dementia, which requires 24/7 care-giving. One whose mom has dementia but lives over an hour away, which presents its own challenges.

* one whose husband has ALS.

We understood that no matter the relationship, the circumstances or the degree of care-giving, certain things are universal.

* We often don’t choose this role of care-giving; we accept it out of love or obligation.

* It’s sometimes like living in parallel universes – the one defined by the needs of the situation and the ‘normal’ one of jobs, bills, housework and a social life.

* Sometimes life gets overwhelming and you’d like to stop it just long enough to catch your breath and catch up. But you can’t.

* The importance of Trust to allow others to help and to offer respite.

* There are always Moments of Grace when we find humor, relief, normalcy and a touch of the sacred.

My collection is my family’s story, but it’s not just about us. It’s a lens peeking In the Garden of Life and Death~A Mother and Daughter Walk. The words in bold in these last two posts are titles of poems in the collection. To read samples of other poems in my book, visit Mainstreet Rag Publishing.  You may also order my collection at a discounted, pre-release price of $8.50.

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The Creation of a Poetry Collection Part 2: Opening Some Windows

image007In yesterday’s post I mentioned how the poems of my family’s journey through cancer quickly became more than our story. Members of my critique groups made comments or asked questions that made me realize what was normal for us wasn’t at all for those who have never experienced cancer, chronic illness or care-giving. That was a tiny window opened to me. These are some of the windows opened to my friends.

A new normal. Something that was hard to explain was how cancer treatment didn’t disrupt our life. For those 2-3 years it became our life. There was stress for sure, but life wasn’t chaotic. It was orderly and unpredictable – like life usually is. The rhythm of our days was orchestrated by what and when meds had to be dispensed. The tapestry of our weeks was woven by clinic visits and hospital stays. Activities were directed by blood counts. It didn’t take long to fall into step with the Clinic Dance.

When we were hit by something unexpected we’d go to Plan B, and there was always a Plan B.

Baldness can be cute and stylish, other side effects not so much. Baldness is the outward sign someone is going through chemo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an unattractive cancer patient. Baldness seems to enhance their natural beauty. Nausea and vomiting are also expected, though sitting on the bathroom floor of Sears as your child heaves into a shopping bag is not the image most people have. Fatigue for patients is standard; care-givers have their share of this side effect too.

Other side effects caught my friends by surprise. The sense of smell becomes a super power for many cancer patients. The most tantalizing aromas of food or the subtle scents of perfume can be their kryptonite causing stomachs to turn. And often they can smell things we other mere humans cannot.

Doing schoolwork was a challenge during certain phases of chemo or when Gabrielle was hooked to a drip. I watched the fog descend behind her eyes and she’d look at me like I’d just started speaking in a foreign language. Luckily her inquisitiveness remained and she continued to learn. Though I have no idea how!

And mood swings! A Bitter Little Pill called Prednisone was called ‘the grumpy pill’ in our house. Imagine PMS on steroids. My delightful little girl became a screaming banshee with bouts of crying fits mixed with rage. And the drug made her ravenous. I kept cooked and de-boned chickens in the refrigerator for her midnight raids.

Yes, I’m a cancer survivor but… Gabrielle is petite but this is a big ‘but’ for her. When people ask about my boys it’s ‘How are the boys doing?!’ with a lilt and expectation in their voices. Then the voice drops and a seriousness creeps in when they follow with, ‘And how’s your daughter?’ I understand the concern, but she’s been off therapy for almost 20 years. Gabrielle is proud to be a cancer survivor, but she’s also proud of what she’s accomplished since.

When I  submitted the first batch of poems to my editor, a woman I’ve known for years, one of her first questions was, ‘How did I not know this about you?’ It’s because that window closed for us years ago.  In the grand stretch of life cancer was A Brief Encounter.

This series ends tomorrow with The Creation of a Poetry Collection Part 3: It’s Not About Me. I hope you’ll come back and peek in A Writer’s Window.


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The Creation of a Poetry Collection Part 1:In the Garden of Life and Death~A Mother and Daughter Walk

image007Here is where my first poetry collection begins…

My daughter, Gabrielle, has survived Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia – or ALL – twice. She was first diagnosed at 21 months and went through two years of chemo. She was 7 years old, and completely off therapy for three years, when she relapsed. Relapsing this far off therapy was unheard of. She underwent three years of therapy this time.

Gabrielle survived this second cancer attack and as we neared the three year anniversary of being off therapy, I was of course anxious. The date passed and we sighed in relief. But we didn’t escape after all. My mom was diagnosed at that time with lung cancer. My role was reversed. I became a daughter whose mother was battling cancer.

My daughter is now 29 and wonderful. She was in that group of children who were the first to receive protocols resulting in long-term survivors of childhood cancers. Mom fought for 6 months before succumbing.

Being a mom whose daughter had cancer, then a daughter whose mom had cancer offered a unique perspective. There were similarities in treatment and care-giving, but because of my relationship with each of them there were also differences.

Writing poetry is one way I make sense of what’s happening within and around me. As I wrote and shared poems about my daughter and mom in my critique groups, it became obvious the poems were more than just my family’s story. They were tiny windows into what life can be like for families going through childhood cancers or other chronic illnesses, what it can be like as a care-giver – whether for a child or a parent – the resilience of children and families, and how dignity, humor, grace and hope can be found even In the Garden of Life and Death.

I was encouraged to gather the poems into a collection, as they offered insights for those never having experienced those situations, and they could offer hope and healing to those who were.

Tomorrow I’ll post The Creation of a Poetry Collection Part 2: Opening the Windows. I invite you to return and take a peek!

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A Near Occasion of Sin

I truly intended to just slip in, drop off my little love note, turn around and leave. But when I saw the bare shelves and knew the remaining books would be the last ones out…well, how could one little peek hurt?

The Blue Door Bookstore, written about in previous posts as Second Glance Second Chance Bookstore has closed its doors. This little shop, part of the Carolinas Literacy Network, gave away books to anyone who wanted them, hoping to encourage the love of books and reading; hoping to raise the literacy rate in our poor county.  A cut in funding forced the closure.

But the books were available to anyone who wanted to take them. And I did. Regularly. Usually just a book or two. Usually. And I was a regular giver too. I was the mule for my various critique groups delivering their gently loved books as well as my own. So when the word came the bookstore was closing, I was asked to write a love note for the bookstore that could be posted on the Network’s site. So I truly intended to just slip in, drop off my love note, turn around and leave. But it was that little peek that did me in.

As the shelves emptied, Evelyn, the woman who worked there, restocked them with ‘books from the back.’ It sounded like a secret cache of treasures no one could look into because those books hadn’t been cataloged. Now all of them were being brought out. What might I miss if I didn’t take at least a quick look? The author Evelyn Waugh had come up recently, maybe I could find one of his?

It seemed so easy to scan the shelves with the dwindling number of books, pluck one out here and there. The stack on the table grew inch by inch, sometimes a couple of inches. Another woman was there gleaning for a local senior center. All they have are old ratty things. Not a new author in the bunch. She had a limit of 100 books and was slowly filling a trolley with her pickings. She asked if I’d read anything by a particular author, showed me one of her books-or rather a tome at 800 words. I said no and passed …the went back and took it. So difficult to be good when others are tempting you.

An hour and twenty-two books later I left only because Evelyn was closing for the day. In the last couple of months as the store readied to close, it had to get rid of as many books as possible. People were allowed to take up to twenty-five books each time. This had not been my first trip into the store in recent weeks. I suppose I could have snatched three more books to make my quota, but that seemed greedy.

I did find books by and about Evelyn Waugh-2 novels and 2 biographies, and a book by an acquaintance that should be interesting. I’ve been to Dorthea’s house and one room is filled with crystals and sacred objects from various cultures and disciplines to generate creative energy. In three trips to the bookstore I’ve increased my library by 72 books.

I will read all of them…eventually. But for now I have to shelve, store and creatively hide my newly acquired novels, biographies, poetry collections and reference books because I’ve not yet confessed to hubby I have them.  Shhhhh….

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